Saturday, 28 November 2015

An automobile affair

Texan philosophy appears to dictate that any activity undertaken in the state will be done in a manner that will not be subject to outside influence. The Texan way of life is reflected in the state’s approach to planning, or lack thereof. When examining urban form, lack of strategic policy and zoning has created an environment of anarchy within many Texan cities. The origins of Texas’s planning anarchy become apparent when examining their coveted civil liberties and automobile dependence.

Texans hold their civil liberties and right to independence in high regard. A view reflected in developer’s beliefs that it is an inherit right for them to pursue their own agendas regardless of location and context. This is reflected in the scale and diversity of businesses and buildings in Texan cities. Lack of planning controls in Texas favour developers, encouraging development for the sole purpose of owner benefit, regardless of its impact on the surrounding community. The resulting city is sprawling, unequitable, automobile dependant anarchy. Texas’ history of fossil fuel production has resulted in a love affair with the automobile. Its influence can be seen in the widespread use of freeways, high-speed thoroughfares, large blocks and car parks throughout Texan cities. Usually with limited pedestrian access and walkability. Without planning, automobile use is automatically assumed, creating the sprawling, low-density cities. The anarchy that has resulted from lack of planning policy has begun to encourage innovation in Texas planning policy and good design.

Developments such as the Mueller project in Austin are paving the way for sustainable and equitable cities. Use of sustainable energy and equitable housing is paving the way for future development. Assurance can also be found in Houston’s implementation of the city’s first comprehensive plan. The city has finally recognised the need for strategic policy and development as the city continues to grow. A landmark for a city that has never had zoning controls in place. A city like Houston can be a leader in encouraging other cities to follow suit. While the measures observed in Austin and Houston are a progressive step. For planning to achieve success, policy must be implemented on a massive scale using an integrated and co-operative approach. The anarchy within Texas is too widespread to tackle on a case by case basis. The innovation observed in Texas planning is evidence the state has recognised the need for strategic policy. Encouragement the state will begin to adapt as it continues to grow and evolve.

Ben Yates